There is purpose in his stride and a marmot backpack clinging to his back as the Tin Lid climbs the well-worn steps of the infamous Oasis Hotel. Little is known about this watering hole’s nefarious past, just that it has one, and my intrepid assistant is on the case, nose tuned to the stench of corruption and decay.
Grime-streaked stairs lead to the vacant acres of the first floor. Bathed in light, it would be a property developer’s dream… if it was zoned ‘residential’ and in the heart of the inner west.
As it is, this space is abandoned in time, a relic thick with ghosts. Something happened here, years ago, and age has wearied her. The light-filled expanse creaks and sighs and there is a nebulous trace that flickers in the air, a haunting that nags and bullies, demanding attention like a quarrelling lover…
“It happened. Right here, you know? Youse can still see the marks on the glass…”
“I saw it mate, sick!”
“He got what he deserved… fucking cop”
So much space, yet it is so filled with memory you have to chew through chunks of it to move around. It tastes like stale smoke and hard-worked grit, like sour slops and cutting loose on a Friday night. It tastes of anticipation and adrenalin, chickie-babes and gleaming muscles, of high-vis diesel stains and the tiny beads of condensation on the outside of a schooner brimming with VB…
In the heart of Bankstown, the Oasis squats inelegantly on South Terrace, a colon of a catchment that leads to North Terrace before coiling back on itself. While downstairs still manages a brisk trade, upstairs it’s howlingly empty.
According to one excited statistic from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Canterbury and Bankstown recorded the most murders for any NSW council area in 2016, ‘one life taken every month last year!‘
Wally Ahmad – one of Western Sydney’s most infamous crime figures – was gunned down in a brutal underworld execution in Bankstown on April 29th last year. It was a Friday afternoon and he was drinking coffee at Bankstown Central Shopping Centre. On October 25, a drive-by shooting saw Hamad Assaad gunned down in front of his Georges Hall home, perhaps in retaliation for the gangland assassination. Furthermore, “investigators believed Ahmad’s killing could have been retribution for the murder of Safwan Charbaji earlier in April outside Ahmed’s smash repair shop in Condell Park…”
It’s a deranged daisy-chain of retaliation, vengeance laced with fury played out amid the gentle sway of life in an ‘any-other’ suburb just 20kms west of the city. It’s the ripe reckoning of a cash-grab for laundered power, of extortion, narcotics, guns and control. And, in the padded excess of the 80s, the Oasis was allegedly one of the platters from which it oozed.
In 1982, strife was rife.
Downstairs, this was happening:
“Guests at a wake for a murdered criminal dived for cover last night when the suspected murderer appeared at a crowded Bankstown hotel and shot another man dead.
The gunman, described by police as an extremely dangerous hit man, ran from the Oasis Hotel in South Terrace through a car park and disappeared as drinkers were still lying on the floor. Police said John Doyle, 35, of Glenfield, ran out to fight the gunman after four shots were fired through a plate glass window into the bar area.
No one was hurt in the initial shooting, but Mr Doyle was shot in the stomach as he grabbed the gunman. Despite quick treatment from ambulancemen and paramedics, he died soon after reaching nearby Bankstown hospital.
A detective at the scene said about 30 guests had gathered in the bar at the Oasis Hotel to hold a wake for Garry Graham Riley, 32, who was found dead in a car at Padstow 10 days ago. Riley, who had convictions for assault, robbery, stealing and breaking and entering, was on remand for a charge of indecent assault when he was found with six .38 calibre bullets in his head. Homicide detectives believed they knew who was responsible for his murder.”
Meanwhile, upstairs, an even less well-documented drama was unfolding…
And dust still clings to one of the windows, ghostly prints lurching from its powdery reveal.
According to ‘those in the know’, the first floor operated as a nightclub in the early 80s; on one occasion the coppers stormed in, raiding the joint for whatever it was worth to them. They were promptly ‘removed’ by the bouncers, one through a plate-glass window.
The downstairs drama is recorded in time in one solitary Sydney Morning Herald account, archived to within an inch of its life and buried in the fluttering reams at the heart of the internet.
Upstairs, the story is conceived in whispered motes only, an insinuation, a slight, a snippet of rumour. Was it an internal window? How far did he fall? What did he hit?
All that is known is that the copper didn’t make it. The force shut the place down, with the edict, “this place will never re-open”.
These windows look suspicious, coated in fingerprint powder and clattery to the touch. But if they are coated in dust, they can’t be the ones he fell through, right?
The rooftop makes an airy playground for the Tin Lid, who has, by now, forgotten why he is here.
In the absence of answers, we explore further. The hotel’s gauche glory is a little tarnished now, leached to the bone by the acidity of time. The paint is in revolt, blistering from every surface; the floors slide beneath you yet are sticky to the touch; and the urinals are a still-life of rancid decay. Even the pigeons have scarpered.
Out the back of the bar, where life saddens into pools of disconsolate shadows, the narks and cartels recede a little. Here, the wraiths cling, desperate to hold on to the forlorn slice of life they called their own. Once. Down a dim corridor, the boarding rooms line up. Functional and far from aesthetic, they are a grim portrait of life on the breadline.
At the mention of bread, the Tin Lid reminds me it’s lunchtime, in his own inimitable style:
The Oasis’ delinquent past steams from its cracks, like the puff of air that escapes a kerb sofa when you sit on it, musty and rank. The vestiges of a bygone era are everywhere, memories stuck in the gullet of now. But these, floated down from the walls, the tape that once held them flaky dandruff, these are more heartfelt than heinous…
Just old and faded. Although that motor has got form…
We leave in a flurry, lightsabers at the ready, intent on scoring sumac-sprinkled meat served with fresh labneh, mint and pomegranate, lunch with a middle-eastern provenance Bankstown’s other legacy.
I can’t help but wonder, though. Will the Oasis ever relive its glory days, proudly anarchic and staunchly naughty? Somehow, I doubt it.